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February 28, 2011 8:04 am

EDITORIAL: Legislative action in education short-sighted

Written by Don Amend

The Wyoming Legislature continues to search for the magic solution to what they perceive as the failure of Wyoming’s schools.

Much of lawmakers’ attention this session has been focused on the performance of schools in the state, which they say is not as good as it should be. They are focusing on the state’s teachers in an effort to change the situation, trying to legislate more effective ways of evaluating them and making it easier to terminate them.

There is no doubt that there are problems in public education. But, while there are schools performing abysmally, there are others that are excellent, and most, whether good or bad, reflect the culture of the community in which they function.

Teachers, of course, are a big part of the quality of a school, and no one wants a poorly performing teacher in the classroom, least of all, the other teachers in the school. Conscientious administrators can spot a truly bad teacher and find a way to either improve or terminate that teacher.

But beyond that, determining whether a teacher is underperforming is a difficult task. Teaching and learning is a complex process involving multiple personalities, abilities and motivations. Students learn in a variety of ways, and they advance at different rates. A teacher who is successful with one group of students may struggle teaching the same thing to a different group.

In short, determining whether a teacher is underperforming is not always a clear-cut decision. A good teacher who uses an unorthodox method is just as likely to be fired as a below average teacher, and political pressure from a few influential people in a community might cost a district a very competent teacher who deals with a controversial subject, such as evolution, in his class.

Eliminating or modifying the law to make it easier to fire a teacher, as the Legislature is doing this year, is not the answer to improving the state’s schools. At best, it would mean the elimination of a few teachers who are underperforming. At worst, it would mean creating a revolving door, pushing competent teachers out every year and bringing in inexperienced, untried teachers to replace them.

That would not improve student achievement in Wyoming.

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